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WHEN THE DEAD COME TO DINNER: CELEBRATING DÍA DE MUERTOS

a group of people in costumes

Imagine you’re hosting a huge party. Everyone is invited — all the family members and friends you love will be there. Even the ones who are dead.

In Mexico, this party is celebrated every November 2, when locals honour Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.

Locals believe that once a year, in the middle of autumn, all the deceased come back to the land of the living. They’ll maybe even stay with us for a few days. And what do we local living, breathing beings do? Make sure everything is ready for the Dead to enjoy their visit! After all, even though they are not alive, they are still our guests.

a group of stuffed animals

Paper machè giant skull representations at Mexico City’s Zocalo, the main plaza; these kinds of handicrafts are created for both Day of The Dead and Corpus Christi | Photo by Mexico City Urban Adventures

elebrations vary throughout the country, depending on the region and the local customs. In Mexico City, for example, we believe that no matter who we were or what we did during our lives, one day we will all be no more than skeletons in a cemetery.

Because of this, from October 28 to November 2, the entire city transforms into a cemetery of sorts — you’ll see skulls and skeletons almost everywhere. They are dancing, eating, chatting, etc. You may be able to see Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera taking a walk in Coyoacan, or maybe meet the Catrina, a female skeleton who is our symbol of death and comes every year wearing an elegant Victorian-style dress and jewels, to remind us that not even money and wealth will be able to save us from her.

But in other areas, specifically in small towns in central Mexico, the celebration is quite different. Here, some locals will invite their deceased ones to share a meal with them, and literally take the celebration to the graveyard. They bring flowers, candles, food, beverages and everything their deceased ones loved while they were alive. Some even bring Mariachis or other music bands to sing with them the songs they enjoyed — it could be traditional Mexican music, or maybe salsa or rock ’n’ roll.

Still others will decide to receive their deceased ones at home: they dress a table and fill it with flowers, food, personal objects and the portraits of the people they are expecting to come. Candles are lit, since the Dead are believed to come from a dark place.

Lots of families will also hang colourful papers from the roof as flags. According to the tradition, once the flags start waving, it means the Dead have arrived. All of this display is called the ‘Ofrenda,’ meaning ‘offering’ in English.

a pile of fruit sitting on top of a grass covered field

Most altars also have a zempazuchil, or ash cross; this is usually considered the pòrtal from the World of the Dead and our world | Photo by Mexico City Urban Adventures

If you’re in Mexico during the celebrations, feel free to embrace the arrival of the Dead. Locals will be happy to introduce you to this great festivity.

If you hop on a Urban Adventures tour during the festivities, you might get to smell the thousands of flowers sold in Mexico City’s markets, or learn to cook traditional Yucatan dishes in Merida for the deceased Mayans, or maybe explore the cenotes at Playa del Carmen, which hundreds of years ago were believed to be the door to the underworld.

Explore ancient ruins, local markets, delicious cuisine, traditional mariachi, cenotes, and even Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling! Many visit Mexico to do a number of these things, but with an Urban Adventures Mexico tour, you’ll discover all of this in the best way possible: with a local.
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